Ag at Large: Farmers’ water interests go deep

2012-10-11T11:42:00Z 2012-12-06T16:29:43Z Ag at Large: Farmers’ water interests go deepBy Don Curlee Hanford Sentinel
October 11, 2012 11:42 am  • 

Everybody needs water every day. The farm community seems to have a more passionate understanding of that truism than almost anybody, and farmers work hard to project it.

This is not about drought, although this summer’s lack of rain in Midwest farming areas underscores the absolute dependence we all have on water.

California agriculture is set apart from much of the rest of the country’s farm production areas by its designation as irrigated agriculture. True, those lush green circles across some of flyover country tell us that irrigation is a big issue there, too, but some of it is a supplement to summer rains.  

However, in much of California’s most productive farmland, the choice is irrigate or perish. Summer rains are not expected. If they occur any time between May and September, even through September, it is an oddity.

Farmers are deeply involved in the irrigation equation, dedicated to correcting deficiencies when they recognize them, fiercely protective of water supplies below ground and above, and undeniably committed to maintaining water purity and the conveyance systems that make it conveniently available.

An example of this involvement with water is the Kings Basin Water Authority covering large parts of Fresno and Kings counties and a small portion of Tulare County in Central California’s lush agricultural kingdom.  

It is a regional collaboration of 51 public, private and nongovernmental agencies relying on the Kings River, serving a large portion of the area’s population by supplying municipalities and industrial users as well as production agriculture with their water requirements.

The organization is updating its regional water management plan by providing a comprehensive overview of the Kings Basin’s water supply, demand and conditions. Goals, objectives and strategies have been meticulously identified.

The overriding concern is the fact that more water is being extracted from the region’s underground basin than is being put in. The recharge deficiency was exacerbated by below normal rainfall and a skimpy snow storage last winter.  The underground basin is the region’s lifeline.

Through the years, several facilities have been constructed to help recharge the underground basis. Part of the current undertaking is to ensure that current structures are meeting expectations and to evaluate the need for additional facilities.

This is a serious and complicated undertaking, one that requires a new level of involvement by those who produce agricultural crops in the area as well as domestic and industrial water users and those who supply them and the environmental spectrum.

The all-inclusive nature of the need for water and the means to supply it create a unique attitude by citizens of this 610,000-acre area. They live daily with the knowledge that they are the collective guardians of an element vital to their safety and well-being, vital to their very existences.

Newcomers to the area are sometimes puzzled by the pervasive emphasis on water supplies that underlies many corporate decisions involving them and their new neighbors.

Eventually they find the water connection contributes significantly to a community foundation. It is part of what they have signed up for in this arid but astoundingly productive region. They are learning what it is to accept water responsibility, just like citizenship, allegiance to the flag and commitment to upholding laws and traditions.

Dave  Orth, one of California’s most knowledgeable and best qualified water experts,  administers the Kings Basin Water Authority and the Kings River Conservation District, one of the authority’s major contributors.

He is directing a sober and serious project, leading everyday people who probably have a better concept of water use and its requirement than all our legislators put together.

Orth can be grateful he’s involved with committed, understanding people as he accomplishes his task. It’s much more rewarding than herding legislative cats.

Don Curlee operates his own public relations firm specializing in agriculture issues. His column appears in The Sentinel every Thursday. Email Don at

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